The Federal System has long maintained extremely disparate punishments for crack cocaine possession as opposed to powder cocaine possession offenses. This week the House of Representatives has passed the Fair Sentencing Act and it is expected to eventually become law.
The original Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 841) established minimum sentences for crack offenders that are 100 times more harsh than sentences for powder cocaine offenders, even with the same weight of drugs involved. In practice, that meant that a person facing sentencing for 5 grams of crack cocaine, a minimum 5 years, was facing the same sentence as a person carrying 500 grams of powder cocaine.
While no apparent reasoning exists for the disparity, recent claims that the current sentencing guidelines are racist have forced legislators to review their drug sentencing guidelines. White drug users are much more likely to be arrested for powder cocaine possession, whereas African-American drug users are more likely to be arrested for crack cocaine possession. As a result, black convicts faced much more strict sentences than their white counterparts for essentially the same crime.
The United States Supreme Court even ruled in Kimbrough v. U.S., that judges could sentence defendants below the sentencing guidelines for crack offenses. The new bill will reduce the disparity from 100 to 1 to approximately 18 to 1. It is a minor victory in reducing the sentencing disparities for crack possession versus cocaine possession.